Did you know that…
- Gum disease is the most common problem that affects a dog’s mouth
- 80% of dogs suffer a stage of gum disease before they are 3 years old
- Gum disease is five times more common in dogs than humans
The reason gum disease is so prevalent in dogs is for the simple reason that we, their fur parents, don’t take care of their dental health.
Listen up, doggy breath isn’t something dogs ‘just have’. Well okay, their breath is hardly going to be minty fresh, but it shouldn’t be smelly either.
In fact, bad breath is the first sign of periodontal disease. But here’s the crucial thing, once it gets to that stage, it’s irreversible and could lead to life-threatening conditions.
Periodontitis is when the tooth detaches from the socket. The tooth (or teeth) doesn’t necessarily come out immediately, but it eventually will. It will also lead to severe infections throughout the body as bacteria can then enter the bloodstream.
So we, of course, want to avoid gum disease reaching that stage. And it is possible – with proper dental care.
You look after your own teeth daily, right? So why not do the same for your dog?
There is a bit of a misconception around cleaning your dog’s teeth and gums… they won’t like it, they’re too fidgety, it’ll hurt them, you don’t know what you’re doing, on and on and on the excuses go.
And that’s all they really are – excuses. Because if you haven’t tried, how do you know?
Truth is, we probably didn’t realise how important dental care is for our beloved pooch. And that’s okay.
But since you do now, here are some tips to get you started…
No. 1 Speak to your vet
The best place to start is by visiting your vet and getting some basic dental care advice. Ask him or her what a healthy mouth looks like for your dog, and what issues to look out for.
Healthy teeth should be relatively white (not discoloured) and intact (not broken or with jagged edges).
Healthy gums are usually salmon pink, though some breeds can have black or a mix of black and pink gums.
A healthy tongue is moist with no lumps, spots or cuts.
No. 2 Invest in a doggy toothbrush and toothpaste
Do not use toothbrushes or toothpaste made for us humans. A dog’s toothbrush is usually double headed to make things easier, and their toothpaste doesn’t contain any fluoride, which is extremely poisonous to dogs.
No 3. Introduce your dog to brushing slowly
Ideally start brushing your pooch’s teeth from puppyhood. The earlier you add tooth brushing to his routine, the more comfortable and accepting of it he’ll be for the entirety of his life.
And in most cases, he’ll actually enjoy it – it’s a bonding session between you both, it’s attention for him, and it’s a loving act.
But start slow.
Initially don’t even use the brush or paste. Just allow him to get used to you touching his muzzle and moving your finger over his teeth and gums.
Once he is, allow him to investigate the brush by holding it up to his mouth. Do the same with the paste. Then once he’s used to the new tool and smell, pop some paste on the brush and gently start brushing.
Likelihood is you’ll only get a few teeth done in these initial few tries. But eventually you’ll be able to do all his teeth in just a couple of minutes. As with your own teeth, try to get the front and back of all teeth as much as possible, and be gentle on the gums.
Once you both get used to the routine, you’ll become familiar with his mouth (another good reason to start when he’s young) so you should spot if something’s amiss sooner than you otherwise would.
No 4. Professional check ups
Bring your dog to the vet at least once a year, specifically for a dental check.
Whilst your efforts will definitely help keep gum disease at bay, your vet will be able to descale and clean up those teeth to keep them in tip-top condition for the years to come.
No 5. Food, treats and other cleaning options
There are types of food and chews that are specifically aimed at dental care.
Also, it’s worth noting that dry dog kibble is better for dental health than wet food as it doesn’t stick to teeth. But unless you want to feed your dog kibble, this is only really a better option if you can’t brush his teeth at all. If you can, stick to your preferred doggy diet.
Dog chews are great too. For a start, most of them have enzymes that promote dental health. But also, there’s the act of chewing itself – the gnawing action helps scrapes plaque off his teeth.
Finally, if brushing is just impossible for whatever reason, all is not lost. You could try teeth cleaning wipes instead. These won’t get into the gaps between his teeth like a brush would, but you can gently wipe the front and back of his teeth to help keep them clean and remove plaque build-up.
One last point, doing all of the above doesn’t necessarily mean your pooch will avoid some kind of dental health issue. He might anyway. These steps will, however, help minimise the risk.
But if you notice any of the following, visit your vet immediately:
- Super bad breath
- Pawing at his face or mouth
- Excessive drooling
- Noises when eating or a change in eating/chewing behaviour
- Discoloured teeth
- Missing or jagged or broken teeth
- Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
- Yellowish-brown tartar crust along gum line
- Abnormal growths in the mouth
February is Pet Dental Health Awareness Month.
So if dental care isn’t already a part of your dog wellbeing routine, like exercising is, why not make a start?
Your dog, and possibly your wallet, will thank you for it in the future.